Today — my 55th birthday — I am again in the air, flying away. And so I will miss your Facebook birthday greetings until late in the evening, and I will miss your notes and emails but when I see them, they will make me feel loved. I’m ridiculously silly about my birthday; when I used to work in an office, if the UPS guy showed up on that day I’d suddenly demand that he sing happy birthday to me and he usually did, in shock. (Who does that?! Seriously.)
So many people who read this blog are new to it — my Austin friends, for example. For those of you who have been around for a few years, you may remember this and if so, I’m sorry for repeating. This is the post I wrote when I turned 53, modified and updated to fit. Happy birthday to me!
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I’m mid-century modern. I know that most people think of architecture and furniture and decorations when they hear that phrase, like these:
I was born in the small north Texas town of Graham, on November 6, 1958 — mid-century….mid-last-century, which is pretty weird. That year Dwight Eisenhower was the President, hula hoops the rage, NASA was created, Sir Edmund Hillary reached the South Pole, and Elvis was inducted into the army. There was a crazy economic recession that year; the average price for a new house was $12,570; monthly rent was $92; average annual salary was $4,600, and gas cost 25 cents/gallon. Volare and Tequila were popular songs; popular movies were Vertigo, Gigi, and The Bridge on the River Kwai. On the tube, people watched Candid Camera, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Jack Benny Show, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents (in black and white, of course).
I was the first-born child of an 18-year-old girl and a 19-year-old boy, both high school dropouts. One dear grandfather was an oilfield roughneck until he retired, at which point he was the janitor at the hospital; I’m not sure he made it to 8th grade. One grandmother was Comanche; she preferred to live alone in the woods.
Everyone’s lives are far too complex to summarize…..certainly in a silly little public blog post. But here, as I turn 55 years old, I can say these things with certainty:
- My life has been much, much better than it had any right to be, given its start.
- Becoming a mother redeemed and saved me.
- For most of my adult life, I’ve felt like I was 27. I think I feel like I’m 28 now.
- I’ve gone places I didn’t even know to dream about when I was growing up:
- physical places like Hanoi (Vietnam) and Varanasi (India) and Arequipa (Peru) and Enkuisen (The Netherlands) and Istanbul (Turkey) and Phnom Penh (Cambodia) and Bagan (Myanmar) and Raab (Croatia) and Luang Prabang (Laos) and Yogyakarta (Java) and Ubud (Bali); the Ganges and the Mekong Rivers;
- emotional places like so far gone in love with my children;
- intellectual places, like getting a PhD (I thought grad school was just like 17th grade, and if you wanted to just stay on after you got a bachelor’s you just kind of kept hanging around);
- life places, like working on Madison Ave for a big-ass publisher and living in Manhattan.
- You probably do get to have everything, just not all at once, or when it would be most convenient for you.
- The trick: get up at least one more time than you fall down.
- Literature and poetry can save you.
- Art too.
- You’re stronger than you imagine.
- Laughing helps.
- Love is gold.
- Hope isn’t about pink ponies and rainbows and sunny happy feelings; hope is that thing with feathers that perches in your soul, and you need it.
Since my last birthday, my life has changed so dramatically I hardly recognize it. On my last birthday, I was in such deep grief from our losing Gracie and from having to leave Katie I was reeling. We re-elected Obama on my birthday two days after I got home. And the next day, my marriage apparently ended, poof. I packed my clothes in my suitcases, left New York City, a place I loved so much, and flew to Austin, to start over from scorched earth. Since my last birthday, I learned how very strong my kids and I are. I learned that somehow I made an extraordinary family even though I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I learned that I am strong enough to clutch the bedsheets and bear being right in the middle of the pain without looking away. I found such beautiful, beautiful, beautiful friends in Austin, and kept my connections to equally beautiful friends in New York, so my life got so much bigger. I made my poetry group, a monthly source of deep pleasure. I created a beautiful little home that looks like me, and is comfortable. I took a solitary trip to the desert, to Marfa, to do what people have always gone to the desert to do — to reflect, study my heart, shift. My husband and I decided to see if we could find our way together somehow and we went to Java and Bali in the spring. I flew back and forth to New York City several times, to Chicago once to see Marnie and Tom. A client flew me to Beverly Hills for a week and put me up in a sweet little B&B. Sherlock and Peggy flew down to spend a long weekend with me. I got to see Neko Case performing for a taping of Austin City Limits. I learned that a terrible crazy person is suing me and so I hired my first-ever lawyer. I got to meet Nick Flynn and spend time with him. I read a lot of good books and poems, ate so many delicious meals, laughed for hours and hours and hours, cried for that many too. I learned that I enjoy my own company, and that I can do this. I learned my very own life, my very own self, and I wouldn’t have done that without the bomb blast to my life. In a life with a lot of competition for this title, this past year definitely wins “The Most Dramatic Year of My Life” award.
The coming year will bring more of the same (but not the bomb blast please): flying back and forth to New York, a trip to the Catskills in a couple of days, a trip to Sri Lanka in a couple of weeks and a spring trip to Greece. Hours and hours of laughing with my children and my friends, my dearly loved people, all of you. At least one giant surprise. Shared meals, shared afternoons and lunches and walks. Shared quiet times, shared private conversations, shared group fun. Lots and lots of reading and writing, two of my favorite things to do. Time spent with myself in the deep pleasure of solitude. And this Christmas, Marnie and Tom come from Chicago, so all we’d need would be Will, and my sweet little family would all be together. The five of us will celebrate the holiday with great joy and wonderful food.
So happy birthday to me, to another fine though difficult year behind, and another one to come. If you haven’t made it to the 50s yet, I heartily recommend it as an excellent decade of life.
how beautifully leaves grow old
how full of light and color
are their last days